I thought, on this Remembrance Day 2014, I’d tell one of my Gran’s WW2 stories that didn’t make it into Swim Until You Can’t See Land. My Gran used to tell us story after story about her time working in Millar’s the grocers during WW2. I often think about the boy who also worked there, her friends, who never made it home. Willie Boyle, Philip Lindsay, George Auchterlonie – their names engrained in my memory despite the fact they were long gone before I was born.
This story is about George. He was 30 years old and married to Teresa. He was in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) and stationed in the Middle East when he wrote a letter home to his unborn child. He knew he probably wouldn’t make it back or ever get to meet his daughter. Teresa brought the letter into Millar’s and one of my Gran’s friends, who had contacts in DC Thomson, took the letter in to them. They went over the pencil handwriting in newspaper ink, so George’s words would never fade, so his unborn daughter would one day read for herself her dad’s words to her. George was sadly proven to be right; he died on 22nd November 1941 and is buried in Tobruk War Cemetery. Years later, his daughter came into Millar’s with the letter, asking to hear stories about the dad she never met.
I thought the story ended there but, visiting my folks a few weeks ago, my mum dug out an old autograph book belonging to my Gran’s best friend. As we looked through it we found two pencil drawings, signed by George and dated May 1940 and one by Teresa (still using her maiden name) also from May 1940.
It’s heartbreaking to think that, in just over a year from then, George and Teresa would be married, expecting their first child and then forever parted. I wonder where their daughter is now, if she’s still alive. I’d love for her to see the drawings made by her mum and dad.
I’m going to be reading from Swim Until You Can’t See Land, and chatting about the book as part of the Previously History Festival 2014. The event is on Thursday 13th November at 6:30pm at Blackwell’s Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh. The event is free but ticketed and you can get tickets here. Please come along and say hello!
I have been AWOL from here for quite a while but, to be fair, I have had good excuses for doing so – having a baby being the main one! I’m now back with my new novel – Swim Until You Can’t See Land. We had the launch in Blackwell’s last Tuesday which was great fun, and the book was officially launched this week. It’s available as a very pretty hardback and an e-book.
Swim Until You Can’t See Land charts the relationship between two women born sixty years apart, whose chance encounter marks a watershed for the younger woman. In her early twenties, Hannah Wright is forced to give up a promising career as a professional swimmer, and is adjusting with difficulty to her narrowed horizons. She is in danger of becoming embittered, haunted by a lost future. Mariele may now be frail and old, but as her exploits during WW2 unfold, she is revealed as a woman of extraordinary spirit, unbroken by capture and interrogation as an agent in occupied France. Hannah’s delight in the medium of water and the rhythms of swimming are set in dramatic counterpoint to Mariele’s of torture by water, an ordeal that puts her in touch with her core strength – something Hannah starts to discover in herself.
My super-fast sister Eilidh and I appeared on the Janice Forsyth show this week. You can listen to it here, but you only have 26 days left to do so!
I’m also in the Evening News this weekend talking about the book and how I came to write it.
I’m going to be reading at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Thursday 15th August as part of Writers At The Fringe.
It’s from 6pm to 8pm and is ticketed but tickets are free. You can get them from the front desk at Blackwell’s or from the Fringe Box Office.
I’ll be reading alongside Meg Bateman, Liam McIlvanney, The Wild Myrtles and James Robertson (who wrote the quite wonderful And The Land Lay Still).
You should come along because:
a) The line-up is ace! (feeling just a bit awestruck!)
b) I might read something from the new novel which I’m currently working on
c) If she moves her arse and makes the final, I’ll be reading just after my little sister runs in the 400m hurdles final at the World Athletics Championships, so there may be a deranged emotional edge to my reading.
I was sixteen when The Crow Road was adapted for television, my first encounter with the writing of Iain Banks.
Even now, just the mention of The Crow Road brings back that time for me: sixth year at school, everyone having a crush on Joe McFadden, getting the book for Christmas and being totally engrossed in it from start to finish (when I wasn’t distracted by those brown doe-eyes of ‘Prentice’ on the cover).
It also seemed as if everyone was reading his books. My dad, my next door neighbour, some random girl I met at a party. His writing able to encompass all readers.
At sixteen it dealt with those issues I could relate to as an angsty teenager – families, sex, death, drink, unrequited love. It was also set in Argyll, which was where my dad had grown up and where I’d spent many happy times visiting my grandparents, so it all just seemed to click for me in the way certain films, albums and books do when you’re a teenager.
Reading it was an epiphany, discovering ‘contemporary Scottish fiction’ for the first time. The joy and despair of it. Realising that this was what I wanted to write, but knowing that I’d never be able to come up with something so brilliant.
When I moved to Edinburgh, he was one of the first customers I served in Virgin Megastore. I was genuinely star struck and too shy to tell him I was a fan. After that I got used to seeing him in Edinburgh; like Greyfriars Bobby or the Scott Monument, you’d just pass him in the street every so often. Always with a smile on his face, like he wasn’t quite there but off somewhere else inside his head.
It’s funny how a stranger can have such an influence on you. Time to re-read that copy of The Crow Road…
Radio 6 had a really interesting programme on last weekend marking 40 years of Virgin Records. I have to admit that, even though I worked in Virgin Megastore on Princes Street for four or five years, I didn’t actually know that much about the history before listening to the programme.
I can’t really picture the Richard Branson of today smoking pot and sitting on a beanbag listening to music, but that’s how it all started – a small record shop in London to a major record label. I love a bit of pop culture trivia and Richard Branson had some great stories – the shyness of Mike Oldfield, the linguistics of the word ‘bollocks’ (also means ‘priests’ apparently) and the sexual antics of Keith Richards!
Although at times the job was a bit shit, on the whole I loved working at Virgin. For me it was a perfect ‘just finished uni job’ – venturing out into the real world for the first time but not doing it in a scary, serious kind of way. I earned enough money to live on, got discounted CDs and DVDs (still VHS when I first started), maintained the social life of a student and worked with a bunch of really cool (often eccentric) people who were just as passionate about music and films as I am.
I look back on my time working there with a great deal of fondness, and I still have a lot of friends (and also a husband!) from the Virgin Megastore days.
When I wrote Trackman, it seemed an obvious choice to have Davie work in Virgin Megastore on Princes Street. I could write about what I knew and, at the same time, pay tribute to a special time in my life.
Sorry for neglecting the blog recently. I’ve been trying to write my next novel and this has kept me pretty busy for the last few months. I’ve got the bare bones of something now, it just needs a lot(!) of editing done to it. I’ve had a wee break from it for the last three weeks as I’ve been on my official/unofficial (not quite sure) honeymoon. I’m hoping this means that I’ll come back to it with new eyes and go on an editing frenzy. We spent our time off on a road trip through the Canadian Rockies (Calgary to Vancouver), then ended with a few days in Seattle. It was an ace trip, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Although I took a break from writing, I had my notebook handy so maybe I’ll write a Canadian/USA themed story in the future, possibly one about my brush with scary security guards at Sea-Tac airport – ‘gather all your belongings and come with us, ma’am.’
Our holiday was bookended by two great gigs so here’s a couple of music videos in the meantime. One features in Trackman and one doesn’t but should (another of those damn I should have put them in the book moments…)
So the writing took a bit of a hiatus at the weekend as we were visiting my sister. She’s an athlete and is based down in Bath as that’s where she trains. I’m trying to get the next novel written at the moment, but it’s hard trying to fit it in between the office job and jaunts down South!
While we were down there we visited Stonehenge, which I didn’t realise was so close to Bath. It’s one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit and, as the very helpful audio guide reminded me, it’s the setting of a famous scene from Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
To hear more about this press 44, that’s 4 then 4.
I’m a big fan of Mr Hardy, so I’m hoping that the mystical stones will inspire me in my writing as they did him. If nothing else, I can tick off yet another site from my Beatles pilgrimage list (Salisbury Plain).
Take my photo! George Harrison stood quite near here once!
Anyway here’s me and wee sis at Stonehenge (just after this was taken a Spanish lady asked me to take her photo, then made me take it again as ‘there were too many other people in it!’)